All images are copyrighted by the artist Lora Shelley and may not be used without permission - All Rights Reserved
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The Eyes of Lora Shelley

by Adam Engel

Lora Shelley's nudes, like Lucien Freud's, are more than nude, they are naked. Her subjects are often caught in Maurice Sendack-like fairy-tale-fun-macabre dreams. "It makes a lot of sense to me," says Lora Shelley of the 'Freud meets Sendack' comparison. "I admire these qualities when they are combined in other artists work (including these two). There is something that really gets me about thinking something is scary and funny at the same time. It's a very exciting feeling."

She is, according to her father, a descendent of Percy Bysshe Shelley. "My father has told me that Percy is my great great (I'm not sure how many greats) uncle," says Shelley. "I questioned him more about it recently but he doesn't have more information other than that."

Her subjects, so beautiful, are often irredeemably spooky. Muscular bodies in pain. Virtually all eyes are closed, all hands suggestively large. "This is a way of humanizing the female form, instead of her being seen as the object. Her big hands are capable but they are at rest. Something dark under the surface of things," says Shelley. But not always. For instance, The Night Visit is the anti-spook ("a beautiful dream dropped by my window"), an affirmative answer to Henri Fuseli's The Nightmare. Or Holding On, in which a girl embraces the blue womb of an Angel's wings. Or Consolation, in which a suffering woman is embraced by one of the few of Shelley's subjects who actually looks at the viewer, as if asking "What to do? What to say? How to speak hope to unspeakable pain?"

Shelley is an admirer of other artists. "My artist friends are a big influence on me. Artists from the past I look at include Kathe Kollwitz, Gauguin, Hundertwasser, Emil Nolde, Edvard Munch, Klimt and Bonnard. I also like a lot of self-taught work, it can be so expressive with such honesty and no pretensions," says Shelley.

But where is this coming from, this energy blast of life that forces even her subjects' eyes closed, these paint-stories that compel the viewer to look closer, deeper, again and again, like a favorite novel that is no longer a book but a dream in book form, a shape whose solidity in the "real world" is all that prevents the reader from diving in? "Everywhere," says Shelley. "You'd be surprised. I look inside and out -- including books, movies, songs, experiences, a memory or an event, a dream -- there are so many sources."

No. Not enough. Not enough to explain characters larger than the canvases they, one imagines, can easily step out of. Like literary characters. Like Madame Bovary or Holden Caulfield, larger than the works in which they were born. One imagines Percy or Mary bursting from the DNA in which they had lain in wait for the perfect hand to make visual the WORD. "I have read Frankenstein and of course it really appeals to me, I wish I could say I knew more of her work or of Percy's. I will though," says Shelley of great great great (add or take a great or two according to your intuition) Uncle Percy. What's in a name? This name synonymous with Gothic (Mary) and Romantic (Percy) visions like the one in my living room, the one my wife just HAD TO HAVE.
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